NTSB: ‘No mention’ of air speed until just before impact

Federal investigators are providing more details that discount speculation that a bright beam of light may have affected the pilot flying the Asiana Airlines jet that crashed while landing at San Francisco International on Saturday.

National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah Hersman said Thursday the “flying pilot” had reported seeing what was described as a “point source of light” as the plane approached the runway, but told investigators that it did not impact his ability to land the Boeing 777.

Hersman said the pilot told NTSB investigators:

“He did not think the light affected his vision. He was able to see the cockpit instruments.”

Hersman also said the pilot told investigators he believed the light was a reflection from the sun coming from an undetermined object.  She said the two other pilots in the cockpit — the “training” pilot and a “relief” pilot seated in a jump seat —  did not see the light.

With investigators having determined the Boeing 777 was flying too slow, or well below its “target” speed before it slammed into the runway, Hersman also provided more details about the conversations between the three pilots in the cockpit during the final seconds of the aircraft’s approach.

Though one of the pilots can be heard during the plane’s final approach saying that a checklist had been completed, Hersman said no one in the cockpit could be heard saying anything about the plane’s slow speed until just before the crash:

“There was no mention of speed until about nine seconds before impact.”

The Boeing 777’s airspeed was recorded at 106 knots, or about 122 miles per hour, when it crashed, a speed described by Hersman as “significantly below” the minimum speed of 137 knots, or about 158 miles per hour, the plane should be traveling at when landing.

Investigators had said previously that cockpit voice recorder had captured one recording for a crew member calling for a “go-around” or to abort the landing, but Hersman said Thursday that the voice recorder actually captured two calls for a go-around — one at three seconds and another at 1.5 seconds before impact.

But by then it was too late.

Two teenage girls from China were killed in the crash and dozens were hurt. On Thursday, 14 people remained hospitalized.

Meanwhile, with control of runway 28L returned to the airport, crews were working to clear debris and repair the runway.

Delays and cancellations were still being reported Thursday afternoon, but before the runway can re-open spilled jet fuel and other material must be cleaned up. Electrical systems, navigational aids and  runway lights must also be repaired.

Airport officials say they hope to have the runway open late Sunday or sometime Monday.